A Hero Finds A Home in the Powwow Circle: A visit with Harley Upton

Posted By PowWows.com July 21st, 2014 Last Updated on: July 21st, 2014

Harley Upton

Harley Upton


Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Native American Culture Editor


Q) Magnificent dancing! Start us off with the highlight reel…What would you like to share with us that will help us get to know you?

A) Where to start, well first of all my name is Harley B. Upton. I am an enrolled member of the San Carlos Apache tribe(Mother’s Side), my other half is Northern Ponca of Nebraska(Father’s Side). I am 34 yrs old, born in Los Angeles, CA.

Q) Fascinating! So, what about now?

A) I grew up mainly in the southwest area. That is where I call home, San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. But for now it is Omaha, NE.
I served 6 yrs in the Marine Corp as an Infantryman and Military Police Officer in Kaneohe Bay, HI.

Q) Thank you for your service! Did your culture help you develop your Warrior Spirit?

A) As I grew up in Arizona and Cali, I never really paid attention to my culture. I was not raised that way, I was raised in a Pentecostal church, where it was preached that my own Apache Culture was of the world, and was a sin. Yet, I heard stories, I even was curious enough to sneak away and see some of the ceremonies going on. I was fascinated, I wanted to learn more.

Q) You kept persisting…did something draw you back to your culture and to your people?

A) My upbringing was very unstable, my Father and Mother where always wanting to get up and move. I was either an Urban Indian or Reservation Indian. I had to learn to adapt quickly each time we moved. Los Angeles, Phoenix, Oakland, Denver, San Carlos etc. I lived a life of poverty on the Reservation, it was almost the same in the city. I had really no time to really know who I was, and what INDIAN was. I seen it, i was around it, I was detoured in the other direction to not participate in my cultural ways. I remember when in those young childhood years, I saw this dancer at a local powwow in Los Angeles. We just showed up to get to eat. I looked in a distance, I saw a person wearing feathers, his face painted. I was amazed, he look like he stepped out of a movie. I saw what I wanted to be when I got older, I wanted to be the guy dancing with PRIDE, that person dancing for his people, that person dancing from his heart, I wanted to be fierce like my ancestors.

harley face

Q) Wow! That's incredible! A tremendous turning point!

A) At that point in time as a 10 yr old, I made a promise to myself. I wanted to be that guy with the feathers, the war paint. As I got older in my teenage years, I began to wonder, basically figure who I was, my IDENTITY. My Mother and Father separated when I was 14 yrs old, my Father moved back to Nebraska, where I eventually moved to finish out my High School years. As lived in Nebraska, I started seeing that person, not the same person when I was 10 yrs old, it was that man with the feathers and warpaint. It was like a vision, a inspiration. I would ask my father about my PONCA side. I soon figured out that our people dance in that circle, as the Lakota say it “WACIPI”.

Q) We hear some stirring stories of how folks came to enter the Powwow Circle. Yours is stunning! Once you realized that dancing was your call, how did you continue your journey onto Powwow Highway?

A) After High School I attended Haskell. I met many Natives from all over the U.S. I started notice the PRIDE, I started to hear about POWWOWS, what the drum was. I started to learn about the dances, and what they meant. I was taking in all of this, I had never been around this before. I asked questions, I hung out with people that were dancers, singers. But still I did not know it all. I wanted to be a part of this since I was a little kid. Something always came up, it seems. It always put a halt at what I wanted to learn. I soon join the Marine Corp from Lawrence, KS. I left to go to the Marine Corp, Haskell was a memory now. Eventually, I ended in HAWAII. I thought to myself, am going to have to wait four years before I can get out and learn more about that CIRCLE. About one month after being in Hawaii, I met a person, he was a fellow Marine. He looked to be Native, he talked with me. He asked me about powwows, songs etc. I did not know much, so I really could not respond back with good answers. He then invited me out to a park there in Hawaii. As I got there, I met many other Natives that were stationed there in the Military. I was invited to sit around the drum, I learned to sing, I learned to drum, I learned the beats. I was finally at a place in my life where I found myself finally. The drum took my away from being homesick, it took me away from being angry, there was this feeling that came from it. This was what I was going to be, this was the way I was going to live.

Q) You joined to serve your country and you ended up finding guidance and direction on your path?

A) Of all places, 1000’s of miles across the Pacific on a Island, I found myself learning about the CIRCLE, the “Wacipi”. From that point on, I started to learn songs, watch dancers dance. Then I finally got out the military. I moved back to Omaha, NE. I pick up the drum stick, I pick up on the dancing. I chose to be a grass dancer at first, but then I eventually I was given eagle feathers to make a dance bustle. That was my calling, it was the sign I had look for my whole life. I was finally a dancer, a TRADITIONAL DANCER.

harley dance

Q) And now you dance and encourage others to dance! Thank you for inspiring the youth and motivating all of us to dance! What are your favorite qualities in a powwow?

A) For my favorite Powwows, I like traditional Powwows, non-contest powwows. One of the Powwows I like to dance at “Isanti Wacipi” in Northern Nebraska. I've always told this to myself before I enter the arena, “Dance from the Heart”.

Q) I love to dance at powwows and I'm always thrilled to hear dancers tell their stories of how they found their passion for the Powwow life. I know you want to write a book, but for now, how would you describe the power of powwows?

A) The powwow is a gathering of our people, different backgrounds, the dance, the honoring of those who have fallen in battle, it is family time, a place to laugh and be humorous.

Apache/Ponca Honor

Apache/Ponca Honor

Q) How would you encourage someone to come out of their comfort zone and onto the Powwow Trail?

A)I would tell someone that has never attended to come out to one, I would to explain to him or her that this is a celebration, a gathering of different Natives, it is peek into our world, our beautiful world.

Q) When you dance, how do you feel?

A)Like many people say, I dance for my people, i dance for that person out there that can’t dance, I dance to inspire others, to make them feel pride. When I put my regalia on, I feel light, I feel my true self, this who I really am, I am a Warrior. I feel happy and proud when am dancing in that circle.

Q) Such feelings are truly a blessing! Do you feel closer to Creator as you dance?

A)I believe in Creator, i believe that Creator has a plan for each of us, I thank Creator for giving me this opportunity to dance.

Q) How have seasons changed for you since you started dancing?

A) My first regalia, was all hand me downs. I salvage anything I could, and traded for things i needed. Eventually I had my own very own outfit made for me.

I run Native American Boys Home for at-risk teenagers in Omaha, NE. I also have a degree in Graphic design. I also am working my own T-Shirt company, and photography business. I do have 2 websites to order my shirts from www.hudrepresent.spreadshirt.com  and www.society6.com/harleyuptondesigns 

harley upton


Q) You are truly productive and energetic! Since you can't live in the powwow arbor 24/7, what else fills your days with meaning and purpose?

A) I play baseball 7 months out of the year, I enjoy working out, I enjoy traveling, I do a some acting on stage, hopefully one day I can make it to the high screen.

Q) I am sure you will! Thanks for your candor and for your courage! I sure do appreciate you sharing with us! Thanks!

A) Thank You!

Harley Upton

Home » Native American Articles » Native American Culture » A Hero Finds A Home in the Powwow Circle: A visit with Harley Upton

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Is your father name Harley Upton also?

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